Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership, Research and Technology
Dr. D. Eric Archer
Dr. Donna Talbot
Dr. Michelle Metro-Roland
International scholarship alumni, returnee experience, Fulbright alumni, international education
International higher education graduates may experience challenges related to reentry to their home countries as their expectations upon returning home may not match their reality (Alandejani, 2013; Butcher, 2002, Gaw, 2000). This study utilizes a transcendental phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of seven Fulbright-MESCYT alumni who completed U.S. graduate degree programs and returned home to the Dominican Republic (DR) between 2015 and 2018. The Fulbright-MESCYT Program in the DR is a joint initiative of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo and the Dominican Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology (MESCYT) and adds funding for up to 10 Dominican Fulbright grantees annually to participate in U.S. graduate programs.
Prior to their first interview, each participant submitted a photo that embodied their experience in the Fulbright-MESCYT program. The researcher then engaged with each participant in two in-depth, semi-structured interviews on their experiences. Findings are grouped into an arc of development that connects to Gullahorn and Gullahorn’s (1963) W-Curve and are divided into three stages: making it through, feeling stuck, and finding the new me. Under making it through, the following themes emerged: I prefer diversity, learning how to deal, destroy the logic, and sorting out the homesickness. The following themes emerged for feeling stuck: come back and be who you were and it’s impossible, no opportunities for people who travel and get degrees and my mama hates Fulbright. Finally, the following themes emerged under finding the new me: if you have skin in the game, you have to stay in the game, neither the authority, nor the boss, but you have to make change, shaping my teaching persona, living up to the Fulbright standard, and Fulbright magic. Study participants described challenges adapting to U.S. culture, developing a preference for diversity, and sorting out feelings of homesickness through networks of social and emotional support. They described striking differences between their host and home cultures and, upon their return home, they struggled to find meaningful work that values and puts the learnings from their graduate program experiences into practice. These findings align to the experiences faced by other exchange participants that return home as reflected in studies from different cultural contexts (Butcher, 2002; Alandejani, 2013; Gama and Pedersen, 1977; Gaw, 2000).
Fulbright-MESCYT alumni persist and find ways to make an impact. They shape their views on teaching and learning based on their experiences with U.S. faculty members. Findings that add to the literature include if you have skin in the game, you have to stay in the game, Fulbright magic and living up to the Fulbright standard. Implications for practice outlined in this study include a need to implement re-adjustment seminars for returning alumni, increase support from Fulbright alumni associations to better engage alumni upon their return home, and help alumni connect to meaningful work opportunities in their home country. Implications for research included increasing studies focused on returnee experiences for international scholarship programs and similar long-term international education programs, and differences in the experiences and outcomes of Fulbright-MESCYT alumni that complete one- versus two-year graduate degree programs in the U.S. This is one of the first studies focused on the value of an international scholarship program for Latin American alumni after their sojourn, and the first study of Dominican international exchange alumni following their return home.
De La Cruz, Joshabel, "Exploring That Fulbright Magic: A Transcendental Phenomenological Study of Fulbright-MESCYT Alumni Who Return to the Dominican Republic" (2021). Dissertations. 3787.